So. Today’s the day.
Don’t worry, peoples. I know this first one was a doozy and I’m being known as the tough-homework-giver here (ouch!) but this one was tough even for me.
Even though I’ve come so far on my journey losing more than 40 pounds, there is still a lot of work to go, not just with my body, but with my head. What happens when you do lose a large number of pounds is that other insecurities rise to the surface and other fears come up. And then you learn that the journey continues, even after weightloss, because it’s now a journey of character.
When I was 5, I was sitting on the steps of the kiddie pool. I wore a tiny little 5 year old girl bikini. I remember looking down and thinking my tummy was huge and bulbous. I’ve never said any of this out loud.
My body image problem has early roots.
My mom was as thin as a rail all her life. It was clear from the get-go that I did not inherit her body type. She was tall, no curves, zero fat. Like a model. I was short. I was athletic and muscular in high school, but with the exception of one really great, tan, bikini-wearing summer, I always felt fat. My mom never ever called me fat or anything, but somewhere along the way I picked up the idea that I needed to be thin. Maybe I just wanted to be like my mom. I have no idea where the notion arrived, but I can remember comparing my body to other girls’ bodies for as long as I have a capacity to remember anything as a human being.
My mother had the ability to eat anything and never gain an ounce. She could eat 10 fatty steaks every day for a year and her thighs would still never ever touch. My sister inherited her body type. My sister’s thighs could pass for arms. Mine were siamese twins. They’ve never known one without the other. She could (and did) eat Toaster Strudels, sugar cereal, fast food, ice cream with gobs of candy in it, cheese puffs, mac and cheese, and only those things, and in abundance. I tried this and received my first stomach fat roll. I remember sitting down to pee one day when I was in high school and seeing my first fat roll and freaking out. Yes. I remember.
I tried to keep up with them and not care about what I was eating and I grew bitter because I was just not built like them. I couldn’t wear clothes like them. I had curves. I constantly compared myself to them and the more I compared, the more bitter I became and the more careless I ate. Although I gained a little in high school, I was still only a balmy 117 pounds. But I was 117 pounds with blooming body image issues. I always wondered what it must be like to look like them and never ever once care about that piece of cake or whether or not something would fit. It always fit and they could eat cake whenever and however much and never ever work out. It was never a thought in their mind and it was always a thought in mine. I got so angry about that!
My body image issue bloomed out of control in college when I gained the Freshman 15. I went back home to visit and my Grandma called me fat. My boyfriend pinched my side once and told me I could stand to lose a couple more inches around my waist. I was a size 7. I didn’t actually think I was fat at the time. But I was no where near as athletic as I was in high school and I started to gain more weight, and when I left college, I was in a size 12 and had officially launched my path to yo-yo dieting and poor eating behavior. I did Atkins. I remember frying up cheese cubes wrapped in bacon thinking “This just ain’t right.” I did the South Beach Diet. I took Ephedra and barely ate for a while, and this is when I lived in New York City and that was the thing to do among my friends. We would take our Ephedra, not eat all day except for maybe some soup, then go out and have a beer. We called beer our “meal replacements.” I got back down to my skinniest. Go figure. Eventually I had chest pains (a weird infection in the lining of my lungs?!) I stopped taking the fat burners and plus I thought I had nothing to worry about anyway because I was finally skinny. Then I put it all back on immediately after September 11th. And then some.
After that I went up, I went down, no diet stuck, no workouts stuck, I was all over the place and so was my self-esteem. My closet had everything from a size 6 to a 14. I had no “goal”, I just wanted to be skinny any way I could. I did not know how. So now you know where it all started.
So after having two babies back to back, it’s no wonder that I gained more weight than I ever had in my life and family I hadn’t seen in a while didn’t even recognize me. That was my absolute lowest point. I’ve talked about this before, but it was the period in my life where people just looked past me, they treated me differently, no guys ever looked at me (not that I needed them to, being married and all, but it would be nice!), I would cry in the dressing rooms because pants in a size that looked so huge on the rack wouldn’t even squeeze past my hips. I would hold them out and think, there’s no WAY these won’t fit, they’re huge! But they wouldn’t! I was bigger.
I was well over 200 pounds when I was pregnant. After the babies I got stuck at 180. I’m 5 feet tall.
Thank God I didn’t allow my story to end there. I really almost did. I was thisclose. There was a point where I began to just accept the fact that I would always be fat. I always pictured myself that way and I just couldn’t see how I’d get out of that rut. I thought my battle was over and the weight had won. I gave in. Until I saw that picture above and thought, I just can’t let that win. Because there is so much more to me than that picture. That is NOT who I am!
That was 2008. When I saw that picture, I logged on the computer, signed up for a 5k, found Couch to 5k and trained for it. I lost 17 pounds. I was in the 160s. It felt good to lose weight and seeing new numbers renewed my motivation, along with my fellow bloggers. I did a 10k, and saw the 150s. I did a half-marathon and saw the 140s. I did a triathlon and saw the 130s.
When I saw my best friend after a couple weeks and she asked me, “What are you wearing these days, a size 6?” And I laughed and said, “No, these are a 10.” She grabbed me and took me shopping.
I fit a 6.
The thing is, I had been struggling with body image issues for so long, my eyes had become Funhouse Mirror Goggles. I actually have no idea what I actually look like. Fat or skinny, I learned that day that I only see one person. My clothes are the only way I know what I may or may not look like. That’s scary to me! That is a whole nother set of body image problems! My best friend told me I had lost a lot of weight and I should be proud and own it and I still just sort of felt so so.
After doing the last triathlon of the season last year and overcoming a really crappy swim and going on to finish at my goal time, I finally accepted me. Something changed where the journey was no longer about the weight but it was about the journey itself, because along the way I had soul-searched and come up with a “me” that had determination and strength. It wasn’t about a diet. It was about living. And I had never felt so full of life as I did crying crossing the finish line with my babies watching.
Yes, I need to workout. My body type and metabolism need to be jump-started and that’s just the way it is. I will always need to move my body and eat right to maintain. That is why no other “diet” has worked, and why making my life an active one has. As long as I am training for something, my workouts do not feel like workouts (well most of the time anyway.) If I believe I am “in training”, I just picture myself being able to cross a finish line and the awful feeling it would be if I couldn’t and that makes me train harder. I just want to finish. I am not looking to come in first. I just want to love myself for what I am. I don’t want to be my mom. I don’t want to be my sister. I just want to be me and like it. No I’m not tall and skinny and curveless. But I do have some pretty kick-ass quads and calves and I happen to really like seeing my muscles pop out.
I am 34 years old. It took me until 2009 to accept my body type for what it is.
What did not work:
-The same thing over and over again. -Not having a clear goal, just thinking “Lose weight lose weight lose weight” -Not having a clear way to get there. No idea what a healthy BMI is, no idea how to eat or what to do to work out -Preconceived notions about who I was and what I was capable of -Inability to accept self -Listening to naysayers
-”I’ll just eat one.”
What did work: -Talking to a trainer (the freebie session that comes with a gym membership) about a meal plan (Body For Life) and a workout (5 days cardio, 3 weights.) -Consistency. It took weeks, but eventually I saw results that netted more motivation and thus, more results (go figure.) -Belief in myself and no preconceived boundaries -Not listening to other people (lots of people told me I couldn’t do a triathlon!) -Consistency. -Making a “big picture” goal, but breaking it down into smaller goals (10 pound increments) and rewarding myself for meeting those goals -Surrounding myself with positive, supportive people -Flexibility: finding a way to plow through plateaus by changing up workouts or meal plans (from Body For Life to Weight Watchers)
-Taking the power away from food by having one “free day” during initial weightloss phase. Then, giving myself permission for treats in moderation.
I still have weight to lose and toning to do, but it’s not about the weight anymore. The focus has changed. I am still struggling in my mind with the way I see myself, but I no longer struggle with the anger I felt toward my “body type” or the envy I had for other people’s bodies. I no longer let food “own” me. That is half the mental battle and I have finally won that part.
I make conscious choices to live healthier in general as opposed to “just until I lose the weight”. I have found exercises that I enjoy and a community of beautiful sisters for support. I have found exercises like running, biking and swimming that are invigorating and fun and they’ve become a necessity to me. I’ve found a group of people locally who feel like I do. The triathlon community is amazing! Should I ever fall out of the pattern of exercising, the weight will surely return. My metabolism hates me and I know it. I’ve known it forever. Yes, I have fears about having a third child and gaining back the weight. I never ever want to return to that again. When I stop working out and get lazy, I start to love being lazy and I start to hate myself. I don’t want to return to that again either.
It’s clear to me that from this day forward, it will remain a constant choice to live a healthy lifestyle. To continue to incorporate exercise into 5-6 days a week until I reach a healthy BMI. I am still not there yet. (I have about 3% more.) I am training for a triathlon in April and I’m counting on this to take me to that point. With the amount of training it will take, I am pretty sure there is now way it WON’T happen. That is the immediate goal. Since this whole journey has been a game of “what works and what doesn’t” it will be interesting to see how much exercise I will have to do to maintain, once I get there. That’s about 10 pounds away. For my 5′ frame, the 120’s is where I am supposed to be. It seems impossible right now, but if I’ve learned anything this time around, it’s that nothing is impossible.
After that, I don’t want to look at exercise as a means to “maintain.” I want to continue training for longer and loftier goals — to push myself to my absolute limit. Could I actually do a half-Ironman one day? And then an Ironman? What about the elusive marathon? I could barely run a 5k a year and a half ago, if I can come this far in that amount of time….
Anyway, very simply, by continuing down the path of “training”, I’ve officially tricked my mind into exercising. That has been one of my most favorite coveted tools in this journey. It’s scheduled in. The race is paid for. I have to do it.
The more goals I reach, the more confidence I have, the better my self-esteem. It all seems to coincide with each other. They are all related. I struggle with my Funhouse Goggles. I struggle with fears of swimming in the open water. I struggle with the question “Can I?” I am reading “The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training”, which I’m convinced would be good for anyone, not just a person training for triathlons. Because the tools it has given me so far could help in any training, exercise or real world. I hope to overcome some of my mental “issues” by using the exercises in this book.
So this is going to be a life-long “plan” for me. But it’s worth it. Every minute. Even if some days it feels freakin hard and I have moments where I second-guess myself and I want to quit. This time has been different. Finally.