What helped me in the end when I was an overweight (and miserable) teenager were 3 things. First, (and hardest) is stop being miserable. I thought I was ugly and nasty and therefore unworthy of everything, so all I wanted to do was curl up in front of the TV with a box of cookies and a half gallon of ice-cream and a tray of rum buns and eat until I felt sick. (My parents were threatening to lock up the cupboard and the fridge, because every treat they bought would disappear into my belly within 48 hours). I had to banish these thoughts from my head and convince myself that I looked fine, and who cares if I don’t look like a Vogue cover, I still have a right to have fun and enjoy my life and have friends. Hiding and sulking was a waste of my youth! Second, (I tell my patients this) is to find an activity that you enjoy. Not everyone can run, or swim, or play soccer. I’m not much of a fan of reps at the gym. I liked to ride my bike, and take long, brisk walks listening to music, and take dance lessons. There has to be something that you like, and if you like it you won’t just quit it after 2-3 days. In my case, the third thing, better eating habits, became much easier after the first two. Of course I still eat pizza sometimes, and cake, and drink beer (I am incapable of adhering to strict rules) but I rarely have an urge to really overdo it, whereas when I was 16 I felt like it was absolutely beyond my control. Now my stomach is no longer this gaping bottomless pit of despair. My body usually tells me when to stop, and I listen.
Let me start by telling you that B is a physician. And I bet she’s an awesome one. (I have not gone to her in a doctoring capacity, HOWEVER, I have watched her journey to become a physician and have been impressed with her commitment. And her patients love her. Or she lies about it on Facebook. I’m pretty sure they love her. B is a good person, and I’ve known her for more than half my life.) So I think a lot of what she has to say is dead on. Even if she wasn’t a physician, it would be dead on.
Change your mindset. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Here’s the thing, I’ve always thought I was beautiful. I very rarely had times where I thought about how fat I was, or how ugly I might be. (Not that ugly and fat are partners, but in our society they so very often are.) I look back now and see an awkward teenager who could have stood to lose a few pounds, but who was almost always smiling and had a great group of friends. I was on the swim team! That meant 3-4 times a week I was hanging out, in a swimsuit, with lots of my classmates. I didn’t have body issues. I couldn’t. There wasn’t time. The few times I remember being embarrassed, or uncomfortable, were when I had to get a specific piece of clothing (band uniform, concert dress, swimsuit) and it didn’t come in my size. Or I had to go to the women’s store to get it. Or it had to be special ordered. Or I had to squeeze into the largest size and be uncomfortable for a few hours (I did this every week for the two years I was in Marching Band, and then for another two years when I was on the Color Guard/Flag Squad).
((As an aside, you’d think that the two things that would come in larger sizes on a regular basis would be band uniforms and color guard outfits. Not to be stereotypical, BUT, we were the nerds. The outcasts. The fatter kids who didn’t make it onto the football team or the cheerleading squad. And maybe it was our choice to be the nerds/outcasts… but, come on! Look at us! Make those uniforms bigger! They make Star Wars shirts up to 6XL, right? Because they know… The people who want them are the ones who spend their weekends sitting and playing WoW, or XBox, or marathon watching Star Wars/Star Trek. They aren’t out there running marathons (maybe a few of them are… but still.) They don’t make “go vegan” shirts in 6XL. You’d be lucky to find them in XL. See my point?))
This is a long way to go to say, I didn’t have to change my mindset, much. I was happy with my body. I was unhappy with my knees. I was unhappy with how limited my mobility had truly become. What had to change was my fear of not wanting to change.
The night before my surgery I had a huge heart to heart with my (other, from college) best friend G. (I know it’s confusing, but high school best friend G is a boy. College best friend G is a girl). She was telling me how proud of me she had always been, because I didn’t have body issues. I was something of a teacher for her, about how to love your body, at any size or shape. And she asked a very important, startling question, “What if you don’t love your body after the surgery?”
((pause for dramatic effect))
I hadn’t even thought about that until she brought it up.
For two reasons, I think.
1. I’ve always loved my body, as she so eloquently put it earlier. I couldn’t imagine not loving the skin I’m in.
2. I honestly didn’t think the surgery would make any difference. I know, I know. Startling. But I really didn’t. I figured I would just be fat for the rest of my life. I would have the surgery, fail at it, and move on. Checked that item off the list. Resigned to a life of fatness forever. I didn’t tell anyone this. It wasn’t that I was ashamed. It was that I didn’t want to hear all the platitudes. “You’ll be great!” “My sister had that surgery and she lost 1,033 pounds!” “It’ll be easy!”
It still isn’t. Every day is a battle to make the right choices. To not overeat, no matter how delicious. To exercise. To drink enough. To find a comfortable position to sleep in.
Here’s the twist. I was successful. Beyond anything I could have hoped for.
I have slowed down in the last few months. I’m doing great at maintaining! I think it’s for lots of reasons, but they are all good reasons. Most importantly, I’m not gaining, and I’m happy. I’m within 50 pounds of my goal weight (and really, it’s more like 35-40, thanks to all this stupid skin).
And, I’ll be running a 5K this weekend. That’s what took a mindset change. Learning/teaching myself how to run. Sticking to a plan to be successful. I realized it was much easier to be a successful runner after having lived through surgery. I had to follow set rules. A set plan for eating, drinking, medicating (in the early days, and still now with my supplements). Those same requirements translated right into a plan for running and weight training.
This is what works for me. If you’re a fan of plans, then plan. If you’re not, then make sure you only have good choices in your fridge/pantry/house/life. If you know you can’t control yourself around BBQ potato chips (ohmygodyes), don’t have them in the house. Have cucumbers and BBQ flavored hummus. I can’t be trusted with ice cream, so we don’t have it in the house. If I want something sweet, I have a piece of fruit. If I want something creamy, I have a cup of coffee or yogurt.
Know your weaknesses. And fight them. Every day. And the battle will get easier. I no longer have to eat every single bag of BBQ potato chips I see. I crave them, sure. But I don’t give in, and it’s a lot easier now than it was 2 months ago.
Maybe I did have to change my mindset. But it was my eating mindset, not my self-image mindset.
Which mindset do you need to change?
For the record, my reward for finishing the race on Saturday? A Krispy Kreme donut and a week off from training. F@ck yea.