I don’t talk about it all that much anymore. My history as a “fat girl” stays pretty hidden – I may even be a little embarrassed, or possibly even ashamed, of it.
So for the fun of it, I’ll out myself once and for all: I am a fat girl. I was 9’8″ when I was born, and I looked like the Michelin baby when I was 6 months old. I always thought I was a fat kid growing up (I wasn’t, ironically – but that’s one of the lessons, so hang tight). I started dieting in high school, and I lost some weight, but by the time I graduated I was 215. I’m 5’6″. It was not pretty. I was muffin topping out of my size 18s. Not. Pretty.
I went off to college, and thought about it a lot, and was conflicted about it, as many young women are about their weight – regardless of reality. I lost the Freshman 15 – mostly because I lived in a 4th floor walkup and dorm food is lousy. But 5 years later, when I came back to New Orleans, I was still in the same place. Fat.
It was then, thanks in part to a very dear friend and soulmate, I went to Weight Watchers. We went together. We were both heavy, we both wanted to do something about it. I lost 40 pounds, she lost 50. She still had more to lose, and that was about when she lost track. But I became “lifetime” in 2005, and I have maintained at least 25# of that loss ever since. I changed how I ate. I started running, and changed how I thought of myself — instead of being a “theatre kid,” I realized I had some athleticism. Katrina threw a wrench in a lot of it, and I’ve had some weights better than others.
Full disclosure: I am not at my goal weight currently. I could stand to lose 20 pounds. And so that leads to lesson #1…
1. It’s all about the journey. When you’re “losing” on program, it’s easy to stay motivated. When you have a destination in mind, when you have something to work towards, there’s tons of reinforcement. When you arrive, it’s incredibly exciting. And pretty quickly, it gets boring. Contrary to what you thought, you STILL have to work just as hard (if not harder, on occasion) to “stay at goal.” It’s like running to stand still. Initially, that’s demoralizing. Until you have your first taste of regaining, and then you realize: it’s about setting new goals. It’s about ALWAYS working to better, always striving towards something. Our goals change in life, but you must always have a next step – a higher height. After I hit goal, I started running. I’ve run 4 half-marathons. I think part of the reason I haven’t run a full marathon is because then I’ll have to set a new goal.
2. Feedback, not failure. Weight Watchers teaches some of the best positive thinking around. This is one of my favorites. It’s easy to beat yourself up when you have a setback. A job interview doesn’t go how you want. That perfect first date never calls you for a second. When you’re working really hard at something and it doesn’t work out (whether because of luck or just imperfect behavior) – its easy to give up. It is human nature to allow your brain to go down that negative path, into the “spin cycle” of self-defeat. And very quickly you realize you’re on a completely separate track going somewhere you don’t want to go. When something doesn’t go your way, take a step back. Stop asking and dwelling on what you did wrong, and ask instead “How could I have done that differently?” This is also about always looking forward instead of looking back. Feedback, not failure.
3. If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. This is a phrase borrowed, of course, and one that I recently got in a fortune cookie. A very similar one, that I also love, is the Einstein quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you don’t like the results, change what you’re doing. Period.
4. Don’t ever assume anything about another person’s journey. In a Weight Watchers center, when a “thin” woman walks in, there is often a vague feeling of disdain that is almost palpable. “What is she doing here? She doesn’t need to be here.” It’s amazing how quickly we judge someone by how they appear. It only takes once or twice for that “thin” woman to stand up in a meeting and say she lost 80+ pounds that you start to get it. In many ways, you need meetings more once you hit goal weight. You must constantly remotivate yourself. Don’t judge a book by its cover. And just because a woman is thin, doesn’t mean she wasn’t once fat.
5. Finally, just because a woman looks “thin” doesn’t mean she’s happy with her weight or her appearance or her clothes fit. I alluded to this above, and I suspect it will fascinate me my whole life. I am relatively happy at my current weight, ironically. I can shop in “normal” stores, I still think I’m attractive and sexy, and it seems men do too. My physical self-esteem is tied far more to how I treat my body (sleeping enough, exercising enough, eating right) than how it looks. And I have known women who are perfect size 6s who are far more troubled about their weight than I ever was. So the last lesson: It’s all in your head.
This is common self-help speak. You can change your reality if you can change how you think. It’s that last part that I don’t even have an inkling about how to do. Suggestions welcome.