Today, I weighed in at 100 pounds less than my highest weight ever --- a number that told me that things absolutely had to change several Septembers ago.
I won't lie: I had a moment with myself this morning. I teared up. It felt pretty surreal. Ironically, my first instinct was to celebrate with a delicious food of my choosing, which I MEAN, NO. That made me laugh out loud, because SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE. But no angels sang. No one brought me a prize. Nothing clicked into place and gave me magical feelings and made everything in my life okay.
Here's the most disappointing part about weight loss: everything changes, but nothing changes. I spent many years thinking that everything would feel different once I weighed a certain amount --- that suddenly life would be SO EASY and all of the things I dislike about myself would suddenly go away and my clothes would fit perfectly and I would acquire perfectly straight and shiny hair and my house would be spotless and I would genuinely love every last detail about myself. There are things that are easier, but weight loss isn't a fix for everything that is wrong. I don't necessarily love myself anymore than I did 100 pounds ago and shopping is still fresh hell much of the time and my insecurities are just as present as they were at the start. This "real life" you imagine doesn't start at a certain weight --- it's already begun. Get out there and live it.
On the other hand, my life looks so ridiculously different than it did before. Before I started shifting to a healthier lifestyle, I thought healthy people were some sort of mythical unicorn-like creatures that possessed magical skills to make getting up to exercise at 5 AM and eating kale come easy to them. I certainly never imagined being a person who works out nearly daily and chooses to eat salad and owns nutritional yeast and lots of Lululemon, and yet...here I am. Anyone can do it. You just have to go do. And when you start doing all those little things, over and over again, that's when everything starts to change.
There are thousands of posts on the internet about how to lose weight, most of which are written much more eloquently than this one, but I thought I'd share a little bit about my experience anyways. When I try to distill down the biggest things I've learned and changed, they're not that exciting or earth shattering, but nevertheless, here they are.
In my humble opinion, it all starts with food. It's taken me a long time and some really deep relationships to be able to open up about my relationship with food and how unhealthy it was, and still is at times. Food was/is an obsession --- at 19, it was with not eating it, but by 25, it was with eating it as much as possible. Food made everything okay. It enhanced my celebrations and kept me company during lonely moments. Food helped fill a void inside me that I don't think I even realized was there. When I felt stressed during my first year of teaching, my mornings were made bearable by Burger King french toast sticks and my afternoons were saved by the McFlurries I'd secretly eat on the way home, before dinner and second dessert. When I was sad, a run to Taco Bell helped quiet the sadness, even just for a moment. And when I screwed up on my millionth diet I felt like hey, I already went off track, might as well go REALLY off track. And when I was successful, I told myself I deserved whatever I wanted because hey, I'd worked hard.
The notion of "deserving" food is something else I think about a lot. To get right down to it, I had to really shift my idea of what I feel like I deserve in life. This is a process that is ongoing in wayyy too many areas of my life, but in my experience, when I'm eating poorly, it's because I don't feel like I'm worth very much. I'm not worth taking the time to figure out exactly why I'm sad or angry, and instead, I should just eat some tacos. I'm not worth the time and the energy to prepare veggies and go to buy actual food, so instead, I'll just go through the drive thru. When I feel like I'm worth my own effort, preparing healthy food and making time to exercise is how I show that. I deserve to be rewarded for my hard work/success/whatever, but there's a difference between a quick treat and truly nurturing myself. More often than not these days, I try for a pedicure or flowers or something non-food related that feels more like nurturing self-care than something that's going to make me feel disgusting approximately 10 minutes after eating it. Because when we say we deserve something, shouldn't we give ourselves the highest version of that thing, as opposed to a cheap, quick fix? You are worthy of your own love and attention, and that includes feeding yourself well and making time to be active.
A harsh realization I had a few months ago is that this lifestyle change will be a battle I'll face for life. Several years into this journey, I still find myself back into old habits of overeating and using food as a coping mechanism. Less than a month ago, during a really, really stressful and frustrating day, I found myself running an errand for work and deciding that I really, really needed four donuts to calm my nerves. As I paced the aisles of the Dollar Tree frantically gathering the supplies I needed, I choked down an apple fritter and just as I was about to go hard on a chocolate cruller, I realized that this was not my best plan. These were old habits coming up and telling me that donuts were going to handle my frustration much more easily than expressing my actual frustration. But dang it if I didn't want those donuts because they brought me so much comfort, even for a moment. Instead, I left them in their greasy little bag on a Dollar Tree shelf (classy!) and called a friend and talked it out. It was sobering because there I was, 90 pounds down from my highest weight, and still using food to cope. These feelings don't go away, and you have to choose differently over and over again.
There's always power in the moment right before you make a choice. Sure, you might go through the drive thru but you don't have to eat the food. And lunch might be a disaster, but there's always dinner. You can always start again. Changing such ingrained habits doesn't happen overnight. It isn't always linear. And truly, it's a process of beginning again and again, meal after meal, day after day. As any addict will tell you, you have to take it one day at a time, and honestly, for me? It sometimes has to be an hour at a time.
Eating real food, preferably that you make yourself, helps. More vegetables are good, less sugar is great and while carbs are not the enemy, choosing the non-white kind is usually best. The reality is that you already know everything. I've read so many books about food and health over the past few years, and none of them say anything revolutionary. Eat well, every day. That's it. (If you really want the only book about food I've ever found super helpful, it's this one).
I also highly suggest that you figure out your food "deal breakers." For example, I can take or leave soda for the most part, but you can pry coffee from my cold, dead hands. Understand what you're willing to give up so that you can have the things that really matter to you --- instead of going to town on a bread basket, order dessert if that's your jam or eat all the chips and salsa and forgo the fro yo stop. The main thing is to understand what's really important to you, and how to manage things so you don't end up feeling deprived or unhappy because in my experience, that's a quick way to burn out and fall off the healthy eating wagon almost immediately.
Find ways to move your body that you genuinely enjoy. For me, that's yoga, spinning, kayaking, boot camp, running/walking outdoors, kickboxing and swimming. And that's another thing --- keep it interesting. Find what you like to do and then mix it up. It keeps your body guessing, which makes it easier to shed weight and it also keeps you from going out of your mind with boredom. But most importantly, find ways of working out that are sustainable and enjoyable for you. Working out is a total pain (don't let anyone tell you it's not because it SO IS), so finding ways to make it less painful is really, really important.
I'm a big fan of one of those ways of working out providing some sort of mind-body connection. That doesn't have to be yoga or tai chi --- it could be walking or meditation or kickboxing or whatever, but the point is to find something non-food related to serve as your reset button. When I was first choosing not to use food as a way of coping, I would find myself jonesing for a yoga class the way I'd go nuts for a pint of Ben and Jerry's. I felt crazy until I got on my mat. I still feel that way sometimes --- I need a space to sit and feel my feelings and just be in my experience. Yoga helped me slow down and make different choices about how I reacted to things, including food. Find something that gives you the gift of being able to clear your head and make you feel great, and then do it, as often as possible.
Finding a support system is something I can't emphasize enough. For me, finding a yoga community and a boot camp I love helped immensely, as did developing relationships where I can say, "Hey, I'm having a crappy food day and here's why." Just about everyone has some sort of food THING, and yet, we are all so reluctant to talk honestly about those issues. To be vulnerable with another human being about what it feels like to be in a food shame spiral is so hard, and yet, it is so dang important. Ask for help when you need it, whether that's someone to text food photos to or a personal trainer to show you how to use the machines at the gym. Define your needs and then find ways to meet them. Additionally, if you can find people with similar goals to be buddies with, to help you make great choices, it's a game changer. Partly for accountability, but also because it's really nice to have solidarity in ordering salad when you really want a burger.
That last sentence brings me to the tough love portion of this monstrous essay: it's hard. Changing your habits is uncomfortable. Other people will not always understand why you're doing what you're doing. There's a lot of other people taking your choices personally, as if you're somehow judging their decisions when (at least in my case) there's absolutely zero concern about what anyone else is eating, because I'm too busy feeling sad about eating black bean soup instead of cheese fries. And most of all, I think you have to be ready, mentally. It's not enough to want a thinner body or to feel like you "should" do it --- you have to want it and decide to do it on your own, because at the end of the day, you are the person feeding you and taking your body into the gym and making your own decisions and if you're not in the game, it's just not going to happen. Only you can choose to take responsibility for what goes into your body and how well you take care of it.
Mostly, be really, really nice to yourself. That doesn't mean let yourself off the hook --- there's a difference between holding yourself accountable and beating yourself up. Owning up to when you're not giving your best effort is important. Sometimes, being nice to yourself means chopping your veggies and getting in a workout. And often times, it means sleeping in. It never means telling yourself that you're any less deserving or lovely or perfect because of the number on the scale. It means celebrating the little victories (like avoiding dessert) and the big ones (like going down a size or two). It means being willing to start again, over and over.
I'm not done yet. In fact, I still have about 27 more pounds to go until I hit my goal weight. In some ways, that sounds like a lot, but in other ways, it feels like nothing because of how far I've come. I'm not stupid enough to believe that it's easy, but I do believe that I will do it. If there's one thing I have learned on this path, it's that I'm capable of surprising myself, both in what I can do, and how hard I can work to make it happen. It's the best sort of surprise to realize that you're stronger than you once thought, and that knowledge is better than any number on the scale, to be sure.
I would be remiss if I acted as if this shift happened alone. It didn't. For me, changing my life has literally taken a village. I started this journey pretty clueless about how exactly to go about this, worked my way through a variety of different gyms and classes and programs. A special thanks to Sami Kader for your help and inspiration, to my family and community at Zuda Yoga for the sweaty workouts and lessons in self-acceptance, and to the amazing ladies at Kaia Fit Roseville for the support, love and help getting out of bed at 4:15 AM to come hang with you all. Thanks to my family and those closest to me for supporting me, cheering me on, not giving me *too* hard of a time when I didn't drink wine for a year, being willing to deal with my food needs and indulging wayyyy too much talk about exercise. And an extra special thanks to the few of you who've heard the in's and out's of my many food feelings and struggles --- you know who you are, and I couldn't have done this without your support, love and willingness to be vulnerable, too, because knowing it's not just me made all the difference.
And thanks to so many of you, blog readers, for your kindness and cheerleading over the years --- knowing you're out there, many of you on this same journey, has been inspiring and helpful.