I have a problem with with weight, and if statistics are correct, many of you do as well. Have you ever heard of body dysmorphia? The most common manifestation of this disorder is when people perceive themselves as fatter than they really are. Well, I have the opposite of that. I have consistently perceived myself as thinner than I really am, which has led to me (unjustly) rail against cameras and angles and unannounced photo snaps and unauthorized photo-postings on social media .
"There is NO WAY I am that fat! Am I that fat? Really! Am I? Okay! Thank you! I didn’t think so!” was the typical response to any photo I saw of myself that didn’t match the mental image I had in my head (captured about 30+ years ago).
I was always thin earlier in my life and didn’t begin to gain wait until after college. And even then, we’re talking about 5 to 10 pounds, at most. I remember going on “Jenny Craig” right before my wedding in the early ‘90s and losing about 10 pounds so I could fit into my discount designer dress. But even with those added few pounds, I was still well within the normal range for a woman of my height.
But that began to change right after my marriage in my early 30s (I blame the bread making contraption we received as a wedding gift), when I gained about 20 pounds in just a few months. Still, I wasn’t overly concerned because I’d gotten used to this “few pounds up/few pounds down” thing. I learned later that normalizing this weight gain/loss pattern wasn’t particularly healthy, as yo-yo-ing weight doesn’t stop on its own. Rather, for most of us, the width of the pendulum swing just gets wider with age (along with our hips).
After the bread making fad ended, I lost about 10 pounds (so still up about 10), but I then began taking hormones for infertility and yikes—add another 15 or so. Eventually I lost that and got down to about the right weight in what I now call the “divorce diet.”
I maintained a relatively healthy weight until I got pregnant (yes, unplanned; yes, a bit of a crisis; yes, I was thrilled), when I gained about 30 pounds more than necessary. Again though, I didn’t really mind because hey, I was eating (Arby’s roast beef sandwiches and curly fries) for two.
After I had my son, the lowest weight I ever reached was about 15 pounds over my ideal weight. To be honest, while I wanted to lose more, I was just happy to be out of the set of numbers that overlapped with a tall and healthy man’s weight. I was doing my best to eat (relatively) healthy and I even started jogging (which pretty much consisted of me flopping over my baby jogger, while dragging my feet). But then, I moved to Chicago. Land of -80º in the winter and 110º with 5000% humidity in the summers. A land that I did my best to avoid by staying inside most of the 15 years I lived there.
And yet, despite my incremental weight gain I still considered myself relatively healthy. I’d reach a point of physical discomfort and immediately begin a workout routine, tracking my food and making a concerted effort to eat healthier. This typically meant more “power foods” like berries and the Fresca menu at Taco Bell. But the moment I took my eyes off the MyFitnessPal app, I went right back to unconscious comfort eating and only sporadic exercise.
As a California native, it was difficult for me to get motivated to exercise outdoors when breathing the hot thick air meant consuming a fist full of mosquitos. Or, the alternative, exercising during the winter, which meant frozen eyelashes and frostbitten ears. I didn't like working out in a gym because I was wholly intimidated by all those gym-ey people who knew what do to with all of those machines, and even when I did compel myself to work out, my sessions typically consisted of a 30-minute gentle saunter on the elliptical while watching an abbreviated episode of Sex and the City.
Bottom line: while I wasn’t perched at my local fast-food joint on a daily basis, and while I wasn’t completely sedentary, my overall routines were pretty awful. Inconsistent, underperforming and wrought with denial. For instance, I spent a few decades refusing to get on a scale, telling myself that I knew what I weighed by the feel of my clothes (doesn’t really work when you wear yoga pants almost every day).
The truth though was that weighing myself would trigger a profound shame-based spiral and it would take days to bounce back. And I didn’t always have that kind of time or energy for that emotional ride, so I did my best to avoid the entire thing, opting instead to remain in denial. It wasn’t that bad, I didn’t have that much to lose, that camera angle was off, I’ll get it together as soon as this bad patch of work is over.
But all of the things I told myself were lies intended to spare myself the humiliation of finally admitting that I struggled with my weight. Here are some other games I played:
I also got very angry when I thought I’d been working really hard but wasn’t seeing the results I believed my efforts warranted. I remember when Alli was first approved by the FDA and I convinced my doctor to let me try it. Alli works by blocking fat absorption and if you eat fatty foods while taking the drug, you can experience stomach upset and other unpleasant side effects. For an entire month (!!) I ate sensibly while taking the drug. I was starving most of the time and completely miserable, but after a few weeks I started feeling great as I sensed the pounds melting off of me. I was absolutely convinced I’d lost at least 10-15 pounds in that one month.
I recall proudly marching into my doctor’s office and for the first time willingly stepping on the scale. I can still recall my rage when I saw that I’d lost a whopping 4 pounds. I was livid! This was completely unfair! Why was this so hard for me, when there were scads of women walking around who were pencil-thin with absolutely no effort? (Of course, I had no way of knowing this, and it was far more likely that these women had been eating sensibly for decades, while engaging in real workouts on a daily basis, but that narrative didn't fit with my preferred narrative).
So, what did I do? Did I walk out of my doctor’s office with increased commitment to just work harder? Nope! I told myself that the world was a really unfair place, and that if my hard work wasn’t going to pay off, then nachos it was for me! Who cares, right? I mean if the universe wasn’t going to play nice, then I wasn’t going to either.
Foolish, unproductive, maladaptive. But in some way, that approach made sense to me, then.
I did lose quite a bit weight before moving back to California in 2016. How much? Who knows? I’d have to have stepped on a scale to know for sure.
But the fluctuations continued, mirroring my stress levels. When I was in the throes of teaching or writing, I’d gain weight. When it was summer and my schedule eased up, I’d lose weight.
And then a few things happened that resulted in my first real wake-up call. My health was significantly impacted by living in a home with toxic mold. I experienced a range of symptoms, including muscle aches, joint pain and fatigue and developed asthma, which left me feeling constantly out of breath. I knew I’d gained some weight, but I still felt okay. But then COVID hit and I, along with everyone else I knew, went on quarantine. My workload increased and since I don’t cook, takeout delivery became the norm. My biggest weaknesses were carbs and portion size. My real issue though was the lack of self-honesty and a whole bunch of shame.
If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, then you know I’ve been on a Bréne-Brown-Cheryl-Strayed-Elizabeth-Gilbert-inspired authenticity journey since about 2014. I’d managed to courageously rip off my masks and face the world without protective cover in just about every area of my life. I was more raw and more transparent than I’d ever been before, and despite some expected bumps in the road, I was for the most part a much happier human. And yet, this commitment to authenticity did not extend to the area of my weight. I continued to feel immense shame and hide behind denial, false perceptions, dishonesty and ponchos.
So, what changed for me in 2020? I was turning 60 at the end of the year. My blood pressure had been inching up for a few years and I believed I might experience a health crisis between the mold poisoning, my unrelenting stress level and the additional weight. I was sick and tired of avoiding mirrors. I was sick and tired of wearing three-quarter-length sleeves to hide my arms. I was done with seeing photos of myself from the past and cringing with regret and shame. I was exhausted with worrying that a date might not have called me back because I wasn’t as thin as I wanted to believe. And I recognized the fallacy in my thinking when I was disappointed that I didn’t have an underfunctioning thyroid after all.
I was just plain sick of it all.
So, when I saw a friend’s “before and after” photo on Facebook, with her enthusiastic comments about her recent weight loss with the help of two female coaches who had walked this same journey, I spontaneously sent her a message asking for more information. That led to a Zoom call, which led me to reaching out to Maria from Hard Core Fitness, which led me to going into her studio and ultimately signing a contract.
I told Maria about my scale aversion and insisted that she not tell me what I weighed and she looked directly into my eyes and told me my weight, adding “there is no denial allowed.” I’m not sure if I was more shocked by the number on the scale or by her boldness, but what she did for me that day by confronting my denial, was to set me free, by squarely placing me on a path of complete honesty about who I am, what challenges lay before me, and what I had to do to recover my health.
The program I signed up for was a 90-day challenge, and I signed a contract agreeing to stick to the plan exactly. No gimmicks, no shortcuts, just 1200 calories a day with clean, healthy food and a whole lot of working out (not the sauntering kind, but the sweaty kind). Now, my typical approach to losing weight was to stake my ground: “here is what I will do, and here is what I won’t do!” But as I sat there with pen in hand pondering the commitment I was about to make, I realized that my way of doing things hadn’t worked. Sure, I knew how to lose weight (I mean, I’d done it a million times), but clearly my way wasn’t working because I kept finding myself at the exact same place: needing to lose weight, again.
This was actually the first time I had ever sought outside help with losing weight and becoming more fit. Why? Because signing that contract meant that I had a weight problem, and I did not want to see myself as someone who had an enduring weight problem. But I did, and I was out of time. I was either going to be lifted out of my home with a crane after COVID (slight exaggeration but not entirely unrealistic), or I was going to finally do what I should have done years before and get honest about my emotional eating and challenge myself by working out on a regular basis, whether I felt like it or not.
Here is what I learned during my 90-day challenge, with the help of the two coaches:
I stuck with the program for 90-days, handing over complete control and doing it their way, not mine, and at the end of the 90-days I lost 22 pounds. Not the 45 pounds I’d hoped for (insert eye roll emoji here), but I was still very proud of myself because I didn’t quit, and I was honest on the few occasions when I slipped up, and I accepted the lecture without allowing myself to feel criticized or shamed.
In the months since leaving the program, I’ve only lost about six pounds, but, I haven’t gained! I didn’t gain during the holidays, and I didn’t gain during our extended shut down, and I didn’t gain during the months I convalesced because I tore a tendon in my foot (see the comment above about the importance of sensible footwear). I lost.
I’ve also started running, something I have never been able to do before, but I believe the months of Zumba increased my endurance, and I’m now running about three miles a day. Do I love it? Well, I don’t hate it and it’s becoming an important part of my stress management and mental health (I'm also perfecting the 18 minute mile). I've had a passion for zombie movies for years and a good motivator for me has been pretending I'm being chased by zombies, much like the typical scenes in the Walking Dead. May sound crazy, but it works for me, especially on hills. I also gave up tortilla chips for good.
In almost all ways I am a different person now, with vastly different perceptions, expectations and goals and I could not have been successful without outside help and accountability. I weigh myself every morning, which allows me to address any weight gain when it’s just a pound or two, not 20. But I also know that I could easily slip back into my former unconscious eating and generally sedentary lifestyle, so I remain vigilant and will sign up for the post-90-day program in a moment, if I start gaining weight again.
I look at old photos of myself now and I do not cringe or feel overwhelming regret. Rather, I feel nothing but compassion for that somewhat chubby woman in the photo. I was under enormous pressure for years as a single mother who worked full-time while earning a few master’s degrees and a PhD, while also dealing with overwhelming financial burdens, loneliness and anxiety.
I did the best I could, and that best was enough. But I’m no longer experiencing that level of stress and it was time for a change, but one I couldn't do alone. Making that first call to Maria was difficult. I believe it takes immense courage to look another person in the eye and say “I need help.” But I believe that one act of vulnerability led to my freedom and more empowerment than I could have ever imagined. I still have about 15 pounds to lose, but I'm confident I'll get there eventually, one pound at a time.
Welcome to my Blog!
This is a blog for middle-aged women, like me, who want to live a life of increased authenticity, and greater well-being, with fewer masks and a lot more fun.