In the past three years, through all the events and changes in my life, there’s one that I’m most stunned by, one that reminds me that it’s not over till the fat lady sings — or not. I’m more than 60 pounds lighter than I was about three years ago.
For over 1700 days, I logged everything I ate without fail, stopping when I hit a specific calorie goal. In that time, there were a handful of days, usually special events, when I took the easy way out, designating it an “no clue but a lot” day. Since late last fall, though, I’ve had trouble summoning that degree of habit — and I’ve put on a few pounds, just enough that I notice when I’m wearing my most close-fitting jeans.
That has led me to consider the circumstances when I first committed to changing my life. I was the heaviest I’d ever been, but my eating hadn’t changed; I was simply sitting a lot more due to a new job. A gain of about 10 pounds (and going up one pants size) led to the epiphany that it was time to do something–and I finally had the conversations with myself that made me focus my energy to changing, one step at a time.
Here’s an important part: no one made me do this. No one was my Jiminy Cricket or my personal food cop. Even more importantly: no one shamed me into this, and no emotional or logical arguments convinced me to limit my calories, log everything, or to make exercise a regular part of my week. (Important note: I did consult with my doctor, and we did a full examination and testing to determine that I did not have any physical conditions causing or exacerbating my weight. For me, lifestyle was the issue.)
Why did I succeed in losing? I decided it was time, and I accepted that every day was a new chance to make decisions. Not living up to my plan one day was not a failure; it was a combination of choices I made that day. The next day was a new opportunity to make different choices. And through trial and error — lots of error — I found what worked for me.
A few friends and family claim credit for uttering the words that finally tripped my trigger, but they are deluded if they believe they said anything that I hadn’t been hearing since I was twelve (or younger). They had not said anything that I hadn’t said to myself. The list of things that people have said to or about me in my hearing in the mistaken belief that it would motivate or shame me into change is long and appalling. I was young when I learned that the social guidelines for what constitutes polite behavior are different when you’re interacting with someone who is fat, especially if you “care” or “are concerned.”
In the years before I resolved to change, I had gotten letters and emails from friends who were concerned about my “health”–and they managed to include a few words about how much more likely I would be to find dates/relationship if I lost weight; people discussed in my hearing range whether a makeover would be worth the effort if I didn’t care enough to lose weight so I’d “be hotter” (I hadn’t asked about a makeover or anything similar–I was enjoying a holiday when others started freely offering their opinion). I had even hit the point where a random person in a grocery used me as an object lesson to a young girl about what happens if you don’t watch your weight, complete with pointing out that I didn’t have a wedding ring, so I must be one of those sad, lonely cat ladies (yes, I was buying cat food for my cat).
Variations on all of those happened more than once–and I’m not mentioning the micro-comments like students asking me if I’d always been heavy, students telling me about their single uncle who likes “thick” women, or comments made by men online. The popular “You’d be pretty if you lost weight” doesn’t scratch the surface of what heavy women regularly hear. I felt shame, but not motivation.
I also had more than one doctor not check me for actual injury when I went to them with issues with walking. Both my hip replacement and my torn meniscus could have been identified and treated much more quickly if I had been taken seriously instead of dismissed because “well, you can’t expect to feel like dancing at your age and weight,” as one of them said.
All of that was just part of life as I knew it prior to losing weight. The comments, the judgement, those simply showed that people didn’t know “the real me,” the part of me that has always mattered far more. My mind, my ideas–insult those and I’d react, but talk about my physical being — I could shrug that off much more easily than most people might imagine. Besides, even though I didn’t own a mirror (true story–except over the bathroom sink), I knew the truth: I was heavy.
And I still am. I can buy clothes in the junior section now, but in the bigger sizes. The last few months, I have become aware of how easily I could go back to the mindset and lifestyle from before my changes. Right now, I’ve perhaps become too comfortable in my skin. I haven’t been deciding to make better decisions one day, then again the next, then all over the next day. That takes a level of belief and focus that I need to rekindle soon.
I’ve thought about what finally triggered my commitment to losing weight, which involved a whole web of other changes. The conversations that hit me hardest about my weight and lifestyle didn’t deal with my weight at all. My weight was a symptom of a life out of balance. I was seriously burnt out at work. I was overextended physically and emotionally. I never learned the joys of physical exertion, so all my escapism and stress relief took place in my head, in sedentary ways. I could list factors contributing to my life being out of balance, but it’s a universal story; only the details differ. I can rationalize how my life and my weight got skewed, but that’s child’s play for a wordsmith. The truth is simple: instead of dealing with the imbalances, I ignored, compartmentalized, and rationalized.
The letters, the buddy plans to lose weight together, the helpful “chats,” the pointed looks, the “God has put a burden on me to talk to you about your weight” (another true story, again more than once)–how often do those succeed? From my experience and observations, never.
The reason I am sharing all this, as embarrassing and personal as it feels to me, is simple: if you don’t feel comfortable having a conversation with someone about how they are doing emotionally, spiritually, professionally, and personally, don’t feel entitled to start a conversation about their weight or health, either. Regardless who or what you are to a person, you are not automatically entitled to have those conversations. Your need to feel as if you’ve “done something” is self-serving–get over yourself. Furthermore, if the person you want to change is a child or teen, my advice still applies.
So far, I am the only one who has noticed my weight gain. I am also the only one who knows about the emotional, spiritual, and physical imbalances that are contributing to my current poor decision-making. Breaking through the ennui that has me in its oh-so-comfortable grip is my challenge, and through trial and error, finding a system that again invigorates me and holds me accountable — with a joyful look to the future — is something that I can do, but I am the only one who can. And for me, probably like many other people. it is not about the food. That is what I need to remember.
This is an updated revision of a piece I published two years ago on my personal blog; this reflects my mood, situation, and musings as of February 2019